By Keith Plocek
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Matt Coker
By Edwin Goei
By Dave Mau
By Gustavo Arellano
7 Foodies aching for the bulky, gently spiced pleasures of the central Mexican state of Puebla are limited to one local outlet: Cemitas Poblanas, a rickety lunch truck that shudders to a halt every morning outside a recently opened Northgate Supermarket in Santa Ana. Although tacos, tortas and burritos are sold here, concentrate on the cemitas (epic sandwiches with multiple layers of everything from avocado to chipotle peppers) and tacos árabes (a mestizo pita sandwich), two foodstuffs so fanciful and wondrous their existence seem best explained by a chapter in Chariots of the Gods. On the corner of Sycamore and Cubbon sts., Santa Ana.
8 Philly cheesesteak houses dot the county like drunks at the recently blowed-up Veterans Stadium, but John's Philly Grille is the Independence Hall of the lot. If the meat were any juicier, it'd be a fruit. Add a squeeze of cheese and many peppers inside a firm loaf. Thank owner John Carpenter for bringing along the cheesesteak's authentic zest from his native Philadelphia along with banners and jerseys of its various professional- and college-sports teams while leaving his city's beer stench back home. 1784 S. Euclid Ave., Anaheim, (714) 491-2733.
3641 Katella Ave.
Rossmoor, CA 90720
Region: Los Alamitos
1430 E. Edinger Ave.
Santa Ana, CA 92705-4801
Region: Santa Ana
7703 N. Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Region: Laguna Beach
14370 Brookhurst St.
Garden Grove, CA 92843
Region: Garden Grove
305 N. Hesperia
Santa Ana, CA 92703
Region: Santa Ana
928 N. Euclid St.
Anaheim, CA 92801
14520 Magnolia St., Ste. B
Westminster, CA 92683
9 Soccer, wine and beef are the heartbeats of Argentina, and Regina's doles them out from a tiny strip of Garden Grove's Westminster Boulevard with the same abundance as international courts raining criminal charges against disgraced former Prime Minister Carlos Menem. Television screens—there's one in the restroom!—broadcast soccer matches from across the globe; men and women alike scream their side toward victory while clinking glasses of Regina's impressive selection of South American wines. And the parillada, five different beef cuts along with an entire chicken, would calm the gut of the surliest gaucho. 11025 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 638-9595.
10 José "El Cuatro" Martínez's method of preparing chicken at his Surfin' Chicken is miraculous, soaking his hens in lemon butter before slapping them onto the open-fire grill. He then shakes tremendous amounts of chile powder onto the meat and grills until crisp, the lemon and powder fusing onto the chicken and seeping through the tender meat to the bone. The result is mysterious: soft, slightly smoky and exuding a sour/spicy crackle that's nearly radioactive. 71 Via Pico Plaza, San Clemente, (949) 498-6603.
11 You're tolerating the brusque customer service and sole rickety table at Bánh Mì Cho Cu for the 10 choices of bánh mì, the foot-long sandwich that is one of the most delicious robberies in the gustatory world at $1.50 per stickup. Barbecued pork is charred to a ruddy crispness yet moist. Meatballs are densely herbed and juicy, not bitter like those found at so many other bánh mi shops (we're looking at you, Lee's). And Cho Cu's breakfast bánh mì includes the perfect scrambled egg, oozing just enough yolk to liven up your morning. 14520 Magnolia St., Ste. B, Westminster, (714) 891-3718.
12 Each Mexican state has its unique version of the curry-like mole, and the undisputed king is the state of Oaxaca. El Fortín offers four stunning varieties of the royal family—the chocolate-derived mole negro; a fiery coloradito; so-so amarillo; and the estofado, awash in olives, raisins and chiles that'll haunt your dreams for weeks. El Fortín offers other Oaxacan favorites such as tlayudas, manhole-sized flour tortillas smeared with black-bean paste and crisped until it looks like wrinkled paper. And no meal is complete without a finger bowl of salted, chile-powdered grasshoppers. 700 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 773-4290; also 10444 Dale Ave., Stanton, (714) 252-9120; www.restaurantelfortin.com.
13 E-San Rod Sap specializes in 78 dishes of Isaan cooking, the sour-and-spicy cuisine of northeast Thailand that's exotic even inside the Southeast Asian kingdom. Most diners order from a buffet near the kitchen, where a stern-looking woman in a milk-colored hairnet lords over entrées that constitute the $5.50 three-items-plus-rice combo. Choices vary from hour to hour and include a spicy Laos-style vegetable soup redolent of pumpkin, fiery green curry smoky with eggplant chunks, and fried catfish that crackles loudly across the dining room. 1719 W. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 999-0563.
14 Ferdussi, which translates from Farsi to English as "things from Paradise," battles for attention in a strip mall against a Krispy Kreme and Baskin Robbins. But it manages to effectively re-create the splendor of the Peacock Throne with photos of ancient Persian treasures, high ceilings and a luxuriant soundtrack to please the ears. And the victuals? Merely smelling the fessenjoon, a thick pomegranate-and-walnut sauce poured over chicken and basmati rice, is like entering, well, paradise. 3605 S. Bristol St., Ste. D, Santa Ana, (714) 545-9096.
15 The South Indian food served at Rasthal Vegetarian Cuisine ain't your Green Party fund-raiser spread of bland samosas and lukewarm lentil broth. Rasthal is the type of dive where kaju karela—a peppered, unctuous mush combining cashews with coconut oil and bitter gourds—is among the more conservative dishes, where a chile-laced farina called upma is celebrated with the reverence with which a Punjabi restaurant serves up tandoori chicken. An adjoining snack shop sells chat, the dry Gujarati snacks that are the subcontinent's Chex Mix. 2751-2755 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-3800.
16 Abel Salgado has been keeping the challah coming for 40 years, the past five of them at his eponymous Abel's Bakery, one of Orange County's few Jewish bakeries. Trays buckle with rugala, small cookies moist with chocolate chips, and the holy hamantashen, a fruity triangle-shaped turnover sold by the thousands during the festival of Purim and by the hundreds the rest of the year. 24601 Raymond Way, Ste. 7, Lake Forest, (949) 699-0930.
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